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POW Nativity Scene

It's a Christmas story no one could have imagined in the turmoil of World War II. While being held in a POW camp in the U.S., German prisoners constructed a very special holiday creation. Members of a United Methodist Church in Iowa are making sure this special Nativitiy is not forgotten. 

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(Locator: Algona, Iowa)

Thousands of German POWs toiled on farms during World War II, held at Camp Algona in Iowa. But when Christmas came around, their message was not one of war or hate.

"On earth, peace, good will toward men."

Some artful German prisoners fashioned concrete and plaster into a Nativity scene with 60 figures, half life-size. When the war ended and the POWs were released, they left it as a present to the small town.

Marvin Chickering/Algona First United Methodist Church: "They wanted to share the Christmas story with us."

The men's group at Algona First United Methodist Church adopted the Nativity scene in 1958.

The United Methodist Men raised money for a building to permanently house the display, and church members volunteer to keep the Nativity scene open to around 2,000 visitors each Christmas season.

Marvin Chickering/Algona First United Methodist Church: "It is a labor of love as well. Because they're aware of the history and they're aware that this is something that we think needs to be preserved."
World War II veteran and Algona resident Max Bartholomew agrees the Christmas tradition should go on for future generations.

Max Bartholomew/Algona Resident: "I appreciate the fact that the German soldiers thought enough that they made that type of display."

And while there are conflicts this Christmas in some parts of the world, in Algona, Iowa, there's a symbol of peace on earth.

Makenzie Pesicka/Algona Resident: "Amazing, because when they said that it was our enemies, like, you'd think that they wouldn't do anything but like hurt people. Then when they leave, they're your friends."

Marvin Chickering/Algona First United Methodist Church: "We just need to work hard as individuals to try to treat others as we would want to be treated the golden rule. And if we all do that, peace is attainable, in my mind."

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The Nativity Scene is maintained by the Men’s Club of Algona First United Methodist Church and can be visited at the church from the first Sunday in December through New Year’s Eve. For more information about the collection, please visit the nativity website. One of the stipulations from the German POWs who created it was that no one should be charged to see it.

The Germans were treated very well while in Camp Algona. They had books to read. They took courses in English, social studies, and math. They also had a drama club, an orchestra and a chorus.

This UMTV video story was first posted in 2007.

For more videos like this, visit our Advent and Christmas page.